In one of those deals that are reminiscent of Robert Johnson’s midnight deal at the crossroad, Houghton Mifflin announced that it would publish Amazon Publishing’s books via its new “New Harvest” imprint, thereby adding more dubious credibility to the Walmart of the internet. It may not seem like a huge deal to the ordinary reader, but consider this:
When Kris tried to order a book published by a major publisher in bulk quantity for a customer a couple of weeks ago, she looked at Amazon to see what kind of competition we had. This is not uncommon. People look there to see what they “should” be charged and then ask us to match it without knowing that Amazon sells many books below the cost of what we actually pay for it. (I say “we” meaning real bookstores who don’t get the deals Amazon gets. My proof? An actual Amazon invoice from a major publisher that was misdelivered to us recently listing an additional two percent discount for them that we don’t get, but I digress.) Anyway, Kris looked on Amazon and then called customer service at said big publisher and asked if we could get the same deal as Amazon so we could sell the book at a competitive price. Not only were we told that Amazon doesn’t get special deals from them, the “customer service” rep told her to order it from, you guessed it, Amazon.
Yes, the publisher actually directed one of its customers to order one of their products from its competitor. This is sort of like Foot Locker calling up Nike and being directed to order their next shipment of running shoes from Payless. I’m sure the folks at this publishing house don’t see us as actual competition for Amazon. After all, we are David to the Amazon Goliath. We won’t be stocking New Harvest titles, but will this paper cut make a difference to the Mighty One? Yeah, right.
Today, in a very proud moment, I opened an e-mail from IndieBound (the folks that host and manage the vast e-commerce database for most indie bookstores in the country) that announced its new policy:
While Amazon is seeking to distribute its print catalog through conventional means, it seems that they are simultaneously pursuing a strategy of locking in ebook exclusives which other retailers are not allowed to sell. IndieCommerce believes that this is wrong, and that any book title for sale should be available to all retailers in the same formats and on the same basis. So, IndieCommerce has made a decision not to list these titles for sale through IndieCommerce sites.
This means that the American Booksellers Association is calling Amazon on its shady business practices. Sure, Left Bank Books can “not sell” Amazon… er, I mean “New Harvest, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin” titles. Who would care? But this is a definite step in the right direction.
Left unchecked and unregulated the monopolization of the bookselling industry will not “introduce as many authors to as many readers as possible” as Larry Kirshbaum suggests. It will, instead, stamp out, delete and destroy the efforts of other publishers, bookstores and authors who want to “introduce” their own favorites that might just have come from somewhere else. It will also fool readers into thinking they have a choice, when really all roads lead back to Bezos. It’s corporate greed clothed in fake populism.
Exclusivity is the enemy of democracy. It is anathema to fair play.
One small voice drowns in the cacophony of bullies, but a chorus of independent voices – some small, some big, some new, some old rising together in a crescendo is a beautifully loud thing. Today, I’m proud of our organization, who is listening and responding to the needs of its members.